I always suggest that, no matter what business you’re in or what level you think you’ve achieved, keep going to educational events. The time investment in educational seminars, podcasts and other ways to learn always reaps rewards for me. Sometimes, as in this case, what is being discussed triggers an idea totally unrelated to the discussion at hand.
Okay, so what is the best idea I’ve ever had? In larger companies you have a board of directors, usually chosen from a list of people who can bring outside vision to your business. By having a different perspective than what you’re used to seeing every day it can open up new ideas that can help a company flourish and grow.
But most small businesses depend on the vision of one or two core people to remain viable. And that’s not enough.
Having owned a number of small businesses, I’ve found that the pattern of ownership is usually the same. You come in with some terrific ideas to improve the business and make those things happen. If those ideas are good they will create new opportunities for the business.
However, often times the day-to-day minutia of running the business starts to effect the creativity of those empowered with making things happen. Slowly but surely the business owner of a small operation finds that they see things that have to happen and begin to stop looking at what could be. Pretty soon you’re just doing what you’ve always done and things don't get any better. But the world continues to change around you.
What if you teamed up with a number of other business owners in the area as your “board of advisors”?
The best idea I ever had is to create a team of people who come from other types of business and can help you steer the direction of your own business. So let’s say you own the auto parts shop in town, why not invite the restaurant owner, the person who has a lodging business, perhaps the boat rental people and maybe a bar owner and have them all meet on a regular basis to talk about your business.
If the business owner goes into this with complete honesty and with all details available (this is never, ever, ever easy for a business owner to share) this could help the others take a look and see ways to improve the business.
But this would not just be a favor you ask - this same group could look at each of the respective businesses the group.
The idea would be to work as a team to make sure all houses were in order - accounting, marketing, legislative, etc. There are going to be areas where all the various businesses deal with the same issues, such as the local economy and legislative issues. And each business professional is going to bring a different skill and vision to the party.
If everybody else’s business is way up and yours is flat, this will be good to know. Why is it flat? Is your business not as relevant? Are you not promoting in the right spots? Is there one employee who’s hurting your business?
What if Yelp has decided to really start marketing heavily in your town - can you work together to see if their advertising is even worth the money?
To me, the most difficult thing is sharing the deep dark secrets that every business owner has. How much money they’re making, where they’re promoting, who they’re using for certain services and what they’re paying for those services. Even though this might be the best idea I’ve ever had, it’s also one that might be the most difficult for someone to implement. I wouldn’t want anyone knowing my business but, through knowledge, perhaps someone can see something that would help me save my business. Or make it flourish. Or recommend that it be sold.
Having an outside point of view and working within a community to see what’s really going on and the true potential of a business through a collaborative “board of advisors” might be one of the best things any small business can do. But choosing that board and working together and even scheduling the time is going to be tough. Still, I think this might be the best idea I’ve ever had. Aside from getting married and things like that, of course.